Turkey has been considering a cross border operation into the town of Afrin in Syria. Afrin has been under the control of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that Ankara has been accusing of being the Syrian extension of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist group. The United States, Turkey’s “strategic ally,” has been in efforts to establish a PYD-controlled 30,000-strong anti-regime force based in Afrin. Are Turkey and the U.S. government at loggerheads over the PYD’s present and future role in Syria, as well as in this region?
It has been a perennial cliché among the Turkey’s political elite—not necessarily only the ruling group—that should there ever be a Kurdish state, only Turkey could establish it. Why? Is it not obvious? In view of the distribution of the Kurdish population in a very large geography spanning from Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria to Armenia and Azerbaijan, it could be comfortably argued most Kurds live within Turkey’s borders.
If most Kurds live in Turkey, could there be a Kurdish state in northern Iraq or northern Syria, excluding the Kurds of Turkey? If Turkey cannot think of undergoing a federal transformation or buy the idea of Kurds carving a section of Turkey as well and becoming independent, could Turkey subscribe to any sort of idea of Kurds becoming an independent state, irrespective of which part of the geography this state would be formed? Turkey’s disintegration fears, which have a historical background particularly because of the 1925 British-instigated Sheikh Sait uprising, as well as the PKK separatist terrorism continuing since 1984, have been crippling this country’s Kurdish perception. Sooner or later, it would be compelled to see and embrace the reality that the future of the country would depend on its ability to acknowledge the harmony of the many ethnic, cultural and religious colors of society without discrimination.
Yet for now, Turkey cannot accept to sacrifice its own security and tolerate existential threats for the sake of the global plans and perceptions of the American government or the U.S.-led West, which unfortunately, for reasons not solely due to the awkward developments in Turkey, have somehow become so skeptical of the role Turks play in common defense. The derailment of Turkey from Western values has probably been the fundamental reason for this drifting away.
The continued agony between Turkey and the U.S. over the U.S.-support to Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen, the Zarrab case and the worsening Islamophobia rhetoric of the Trump White House were just added spice to the worsening situation in security preferences and priorities of the two countries in Syria. Could Turkey align with Russia because it so badly disagreed on the American political and security designs in Syria? The S-400 procurement and political and economic rapprochement between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin indicate that Turkey might cross over the wall that a former Turkish prime minister challenged in mastigophobia in the sixties.
Crossing over the wall however, was not an easy thing to do in the Cold War era, nor is it now. Yet, if Turkey is forced to engage in confrontation with its perennial allies because of Washington’s support to some newly-found allies, perhaps no one would be able to talk about derailment of Turkey as the entire global system would be derailed and a new era of global mayhem would be unleashed.
Right or wrong, at this moment Turkey cannot have the luxury of tolerating consolidation of YPG rule in Afrin and the creation of a hostile 30,000-strong American-armed military force right on its borders. If Turkey moves to annihilate such plans, everyone should note Turkey is only acting in line with the existential threat it has been subjected to by its unfortunate allies.